Ask not why bad things happen to good people, ask what good people do when bad things happen to them

One of the oldest philosophical questions is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Gita wisdom answers by introducing the principle of karma, which extends the widespread understanding of causality, as enshrined in sayings such as, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” By introducing the principle of reincarnation, it explains how the action-reaction sequence extends to before birth and after death; we may get in this lifetime reactions to some actions done in a previous lifetime.

Karma is arguably the most satisfactory, or the least unsatisfactory, explanation for the problem of evil. Nonetheless, the Gita doesn’t use karma as a magic wand to explain away the problem of evil. It acknowledges that the movements of karma are so intricate as to elude human understanding (04.17). 

Consequently, the Gita focuses not so much on karma as on dharma, the right thing to do. It urges us to look at the way great souls have lived to attain elevation and liberation — and to emulate their example (04.15). The principles taught in the Gita are expounded in bhakti texts such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which gives several narratives of what good people do when bad things happen to them. These narratives range from king Parikshit who is cursed to die in seven days for a minor infraction to five-year-old Prahlad who becomes the target of several assassination attempts by his own father. Through such narratives, the Bhagavatam demonstrates that devotional virtue centered on spiritual absorption in the divine is the best way to tolerate and transcend evil whenever it befalls us.

If we too learn to change our driving question to what can we do when bad things happen, we will find divine guidance from within showing us a way to light even amid overwhelming darkness. 


Think it over:

  • How does the Gita address the problem of evil?
  • How does the Gita equip us to deal with life’s distresses?
  • How can we change our driving question amid distress? What difference will that make?



04.15 All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding of My transcendental nature. Therefore you should perform your duty, following in their footsteps.

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